Category: Bible (Page 1 of 8)

Accurate Interpretation

I need to offer a disclaimer as we make this shift from viewing the Bible primarily as a collection of God’s commands to reading and understanding the Bible more as the Story of God. This narrative lens is not going to suddenly give us easy answers to all the issues. We’ll actually find there are fewer rules, the lines are not as black and white, and it leads to more questions and more wrestling and more reflection. It’s not a system. It’s not an owners manual. It’s much more art than science. It can be messy. But I believe understanding the Scriptures as a broad, sweeping, epic story of who God is and what he is doing will help us better connect the dots in the Bible, make us better able to see ourselves in the drama so we can play our parts and say our lines, and enable us to more accurately interpret God’s will.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:16-17

A lot of us have taken passages like the above and developed a theology about the Bible, but not a biblical theology.

We’ll read Jonah and spend four weeks researching whether a human can live inside a fish for three days and never once think about God. The story is about God and what he is doing, not about the whale and what he or she can or cannot do.

We’ll argue about Paul’s words concerning divorce and remarriage and look for legal loopholes instead of dwelling on the covenant loyalty of our God who intends our marriages to reflect and witness to his perfect love and faithfulness.

Esther is not about “you need to be more courageous.” If that’s the point of Esther, it may as well be “you need to be prettier,” too. The point of Esther is that our God is at work to redeem everything and he uses every opportunity – even our darkest moments in exile when we feel weak and powerless and trapped in circumstances beyond our control – to save us and redeem us. We are not forgotten. We are never out of God’s reach or too far away from his salvation. That’s the story.

For a long time, we have read and studied the Bible looking for commands, examples, and necessary inferences. We no longer assume that this method works consistently, if at all, or if it’s even healthy. Does anybody really believe that in the grand, sweeping narrative of Scripture, the strange fire of Nadab and Abihu belongs in a central and controlling place? Reading the Bible as a book of laws to be obeyed or as a constitution to be defended is what led to some Christians affirming that slavery must be okay because the Bible doesn’t explicitly prohibit it.

Reading the Bible as a system of laws, people take every single verse that mentions slavery and notice that none of the verses condemns slavery as sinful or prohibitive. God didn’t say it’s a sin, so it must be alright as long as you don’t violate your conscience. Yes, Christians have done this in the past, and some Christians still do. Yes.

Reading the Bible as the story of who God is and what he’s  doing in Jesus Christ makes it obviously clear that all women and men are created equal in the image of God and that all people belong to each other as complete equals. Slavery is a result of the Fall; it’s sin. Jesus destroyed all the barriers between people at the cross. In Christ, there is no slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek – we are one and slavery is a reprehensible evil.

That’s the difference. What’s the story?

The beatitudes are not telling us to be better peacemakers or to grow in humility. It’s not that you have to develop these virtues in order to receive the blessings. Why do we try to make mourning/weeping sound good or desirable? Well, it’s mourning over sin, right? I don’t know, the text doesn’t say that. The point of the beatitudes is to express how radically present the Kingdom of God is, even and especially among those who are grieving. People in their brokenness and grief often feel like they’re left out of God’s blessings. But Jesus is telling us, “No! God’s Kingdom is bigger and better than we ever dreamed. And it’s here right now!”

What God is doing is a story. It’s a narrative. When we see the pattern of God’s Kingdom in Creation and how it went wrong, when we understand how everything God is doing through Jesus Christ is to restore our righteous relationships with him, with one another, and with all of nature, we can much more easily, consistently, and accurately interpret his will and purposes for us.

Peace,

Allan

Identity

According to the Bible, knowledge means knowing who God is and what he is doing through Jesus Christ. That knowledge, according to the Bible, leads to relationship, transformation, and mission. But most of the time, we’re primarily reading the Bible for information. We study words and the original languages behind them, we consult sources and resources for understanding the historical context, we dive deep into a fragment of a sentence and don’t come up for air until we’ve discerned the color of ink Luke used when he wrote Acts. And we don’t consider relationship, transformation, or mission.

Understanding the Bible as the Story of God will help us better connect the dots in Scripture, as observed in our last post. And it’ll  help us more easily identify with and see ourselves in the narrative.

Seeing the Scriptures as one grand, sweeping, epic story makes it easier to see ourselves in the narrative. We’re better able to place ourselves in the plot and play our parts and say our lines. We get this from inside the Bible itself, from the rich heritage of God’s people who lived and wrote and faithfully passed on the holy Scriptures.

Twelve generations after the crossing of the Red Sea, God’s people are saying, “Lord, you brought us out of Egypt!” Well, no, your grandparents and great-grandparents weren’t even alive when that happened. You never crossed the Red Sea. Oh, yes, we did; we did cross the Red Sea. We’re in this story.

In Daniel 9, the prophet is confessing sins that his ancestors committed decades before he was born. “We have sinned and done wrong; we have been wicked and rebelled!” No, Daniel, that wasn’t you. You don’t need to confess sins for which you are not personally responsible. Wrong answer. It is me. I did commit these sins. I’m in this story.

This is what the Bible does. It invites you to see yourself. It puts you in the Story.

“We thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through the Gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

The way you see other people and the way you understand the world and respond to what’s happening around you depends on the story you’re living.

You can go to a high school football game and sit by five people on the same bleacher and hear five different views of the same game depending on the role they play in the story they’re living. A scout looking at next week’s opponent says, “We’ve got to play zone against these guys; they’re fast.” A member of the board that owns the stadium thinks, “Four thousand people here, ten dollars per ticket, nachos are six bucks and Cokes are three dollars – we’ve got to figure out how to host a couple of playoff games when the season’s over.” The running back’s mom groans, “Don’t give him the ball; I don’t want him to get hurt.” The running back’s dad says, “Give him the ball! He needs more carries or he’s going to wind up at Texas A&M Commerce!” The running back’s English teacher marvels, “How can that kid memorize an 85-page playbook, yet forget to turn in his essay?”

Knowing the Story and understanding who you are in the Story informs and shapes how you see the game, how you respond to what’s happening on the field, and how you might act or speak to move the plot along and accomplish the purpose of the drama. Your identity is forged by the Story you live and the part you see yourself playing. God’s great Story is our Story.

Jesus says, “You didn’t choose me; I chose you.” The Bible says, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens of God’s people and members of God’s household.”

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people; but now you are the people of God!” ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Understanding the Story of God helps us bring more purpose and order to our lives and experiences. What is God doing in the world? Where is all this headed? And where are we – where am I – in this Story? Well, you are the light of the world. You bear the holy image of the Lord. You are ambassadors for Christ.

A system of laws and commands compels us to obey and comply. A Story invites us into relationship and mission. Reading the Bible primarily as lists and rules doesn’t foster the intent of God’s revelation in Scripture: to draw us into loving community and partnership with him. Viewing the Bible as God’s Story invites us to join.

Peace,

Allan

Connecting the Dots

We’re making a significant shift at the GCR Church in our hermeneutic, the lens through which we read and interpret the Scriptures. We’re intentionally moving away from viewing the Bible primarily as a collection of commands and laws and toward seeing the Bible as the grand, sweeping, epic narrative of who God is and what he is doing in the world. We’re introducing it to the church over these seven weeks in what we’re calling The Story of God.

The Bible is a story. God reveals himself to us in history, through incarnation, Gospel, mighty acts, relationship, and promise. He could have given us a systematic theology or a constitution if he wanted to. He very easily could have prepared the checklists and the bullet points of what he wants out of his people. But he didn’t reveal the truth of himself or his mission that way. Instead, he chose to give us a story. He gives us poetry and prose, songs and parables – all of it in a narrative form. It’s a story.

The Story of God has a beginning and an end. It has a catastrophe that threatens the story and a plan and a mission to set everything right. It has a main stage and a main character. And from start to finish, it’s beautiful and inspirational. Eternal.

Act One – Creation: The Pattern of the Kingdom (Genesis 1-2)
Act Two – Crash: The Perished Kingdom (Genesis 3-11)
Act Three – Covenant: The Promised Kingdom (Genesis 12-Malachi 4)
Act Four – Christ: The Present Kingdom (Matthew 1-John 21)
Act Five – Church: The Proclaimed Kingdom (Acts 1-Revelation 20)
Act Six – New Creation: The Perfected Kingdom (Revelation 21-22)

We believe reading and understanding the Scriptures as one holy narrative will help us better connect the dots in the Bible, better identify with the story and find our own place in the mission of God, and more accurately interpret God’s purposes and will.

Let’s take that first one today. Connecting the dots.

We connect with one another through our stories. In a room of strangers, we tell stories about our hometown or our first job, trying to find some common ground around which to begin a relationship. You’re from Clovis? I have an aunt who lives in Clovis! Do you know Pam Lewis? That’s how we do it. And that’s how our Lord does it.

Jesus connects all the dots in the story. That’s what he told the religious leaders in John 5: “The Scriptures all point to me; the story is about me.”

In Exodus 24, Moses and the priests, representing all of God’s people, are eating and drinking with God on Mt. Sinai because they have been washed in blood. Moses says “the blood of the covenant.” At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus quotes Moses from Exodus 24 and says, “This is my blood of the covenant.”

The Hebrews sacrifice a Passover lamb on the night of God’s great deliverance. The Gospels say Jesus is the Lamb of God and he was sacrificed on Passover.

The Gospel of John takes the beautiful language of Creation from Genesis 1 and the spectacular imagery of New Creation from Revelation 21 and ties it all together in Jesus. He was with God “in the beginning.” He is the light shining in the darkness.

The story tells us that when you pass through the waters, everything changes. When you walk through the waters of the Red Sea, God is moving you from slavery to freedom. When you cross the waters of the Jordan River, God is moving you from wandering in the wilderness to settling in the land of promise. When you go through the waters of baptism, you pass from death to eternal life.

The Story of God connects all the dots in the Bible and gives us a common language and common touch points and experiences to connect us to the Lord and to one another.

All of life is a story. Everybody is living their story and finding their identity and basing their actions on the story they’re in. Everyone’s looking for the big story, the one Great Story that’s above the others and helps us make sense of all the others. The Story of God is that story. It’s large enough to be bigger than you, it calls you to something and someone beyond yourself. But it’s also intimate enough to involve you personally. God so loved the whole world that he gave his one and only Son. And that Son who came for the whole world also came for you. He knows you by name. Outside the garden tomb: Mary. Inside your fishing boat: Peter, Son of Jonah.

Peace,

Allan

Christian Practices

A word to our Golf Course Road congregation here in Midland as we commit to more of the ancient traditions like dwelling in the word, lectio divina, praying Scripture, borrowed prayers, imaginative reading, and memorizing and reciting the Bible. These spiritual disciplines give us a variety of tried and true ways to engage our God through Word and Prayer. These are the well-worn paths to experiencing Scripture and prayer with all our senses, not just our brains and intellect. I’m excited for us to read and pray together with our hearts and emotions, too.

As we get into this, be aware that a lot of people who talk and write about spirituality and being spiritual do so in terms of silence and solitude. That’s the focus, the general theme that runs through all of it. Some people who talk about Christian practices and write about spiritual disciplines seem to value silence and solitude above all other practices. They value silence over sound. They value solitude over community. They prioritize the authority of tradition over the challenge of freedom and prize predictability and rule over spontaneity and experiments.

I would suggest a balance.

I would invite you to try all of it, to experiment with a variety of ancient Christian practices and new Christian ways of paying attention to what God is doing in your life. You don’t have to be an expert in any of them or in all of them. I would only suggest that we value all of these practices and explore them together as important places where God is at work.

Peace,

Allan

This is Eternal Life

“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” ~John 17:3

In the Bible, knowledge is not some special understanding or deep insight reserved for the spiritually elite. It’s not about unlocking the secrets of the universe. In Scripture, knowledge means understanding who God is and what he is doing through Jesus. It’s not knowing the kings of Israel in chronological order or how many generations are in Matthew’s genealogy or having a well-researched argument for why Adam does or does not have a belly button. Scriptural knowledge means knowing God in Christ.

“We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” ~Colossians 1:9

Jesus rebuked the Jews for diligently searching the Scriptures, but not knowing him. He accused them of looking for eternal life in the Bible, and missing it because they didn’t see him, the source of eternal life the Bible points to. According to Scripture, knowledge is knowing that Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s salvation promises and plans.

The Word of God in its fullness, according to Colossians 1, is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom… that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” ~Colossians 1:25-2:3

Knowledge is understanding that all of God’s redemptive purposes are fulfilled in Jesus. It’s not gaining more biblical facts. We don’t read the Bible to bolster our arguments or to prove somebody wrong or to get my day started off right. Christian knowledge is understanding that God’s salvation is available to all people through Christ Jesus.

And that keeps us from being sucked into the world’s opposite kinds of knowledge and understanding. The beliefs and values of our culture are powerful forces. And without biblical knowledge, we can wind up buying into a mushy sentimentality or following a pathway of power and success or just kind of following the herd. You know, whatever is hanging on the wall this week at Mardel.

Christians may not know more than others. But we ought to know better.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Cowboys play their first division game tonight at the Meadowlands against a team they’ve beaten by an average of 12 points nine of the last ten times they’ve met. Dallas swept the Giants last year by a combined score of 67-26 in two games. But not tonight.

All signs point to a Cowboys loss.

This is the first road game for a struggling offense. The Cowboys have scored a total of two field goals in their past three quarters. This is the first time Cooper Rush has ever played an NFL game when the other team can watch film of him from the previous week. The Cowboys still don’t have Michael Gallup. The Giants do have Saquon Barkley, the NFL’s leading rusher after two weeks, averaging over six yards per carry. It’ll be close tonight. It’ll be a one-score game. And it’ll be decided by a Cowboys turnover. Delicious.

Peace,

Allan

Knowledge of God

According to the Bible, Bible knowledge is not having a grasp of the facts. It’s not being able to recite the names of the apostles or Israel’s kings or knowing how many generations are in the various genealogies. That’s not it. Biblical knowledge, according to Scripture, is a very specific thing: knowing who God is, what God is doing, and how he is doing it in Christ Jesus. That’s knowledge.

“We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God… for he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~Colossians 1:9-14

Knowledge is understanding who God is and what God is doing and how he is doing it in Jesus. It’s knowing that salvation is available for all people in Jesus. It’s understanding that God is bringing all people and all things together in Jesus. That’s the kind of specific knowledge the Bible is talking about. We are told to pursue that knowledge, to gain that knowledge, to grow in that kind of knowledge, what the Bible calls “the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).

Having that knowledge will keep us from being sucked in to the world’s forms of knowledge and understanding. What the world is doing and how the world is doing it – the values and beliefs and practices of the world, how the world gets things done – those are powerful forces. They are opposing forces. And without the knowledge of God, we can wind up following a mushy K-LOVE kind of shallow sentimentality we can buy at Mardell or a pathway of power and success reinforced by the herds at political rallies and stockbroker meetings.

Christians may not know more than others, but we ought to know better.

Knowledge of God changes everything. Isaiah 11 says when the Kingdom is finally perfected, when God’s holy will has all been finally fulfilled, there will be righteousness and justice and peace for the whole world, because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of God.”

Peace,

Allan

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